09/04/06 — Family at first sight

View Archive

Family at first sight

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on September 4, 2006 1:51 PM

Frances and Christian Shaw fell in love with their children before they even met them.

They already had three of their own -- Conner, 8, Andrew, 6, and Noah, 3 -- highly anticipated and loved before they came into the world.

And the same was true for their recently adopted children, Nehemiya, 4, and Hiwot, 3.

It's just that the newest additions to their family had a lot farther to travel.

"We had thought about adoption ever since before we had children," Mrs. Shaw said. Her first pregnancy resulted in a miscarriage at four months, prompting the couple to consider another way to become parents.

"We felt like adoption was the way to go for us," she said, even after they went on to have their own children.

The family moved to Wayne County 13 months ago when Shaw assumed the job as clinical coordinator for the pharmacy at Wayne Memorial Hospital. They purposely bought a house on a corner lot outside of town because it had a huge back yard where an expanding family could spend time.

At the beginning of the year, the Shaws began the process of acquiring another child, leaning heavily toward a daughter. It didn't have to be an infant, nor did it matter whether the child was from America or another country, Mrs. Shaw said.

Their answer came from Ethiopia, where they learned about a brother and sister in an orphanage who were on a waiting list for parents.

And that was the first time they "met" Nehemiya and Hiwot.

"There was something about their picture -- the eyes, the bright eyes and everything," Mrs. Shaw recalled. What became a quest to adopt one turned into a desire to create a home for both children.

In July, the Shaws traveled to Ethiopia, spending a week with the children in a guest house run by the adoption agency.

Bonding was easier than expected, Mrs. Shaw said.

"You play it by ear. But actually from the moment you meet them, the older kids grab right onto you and don't want to leave you," she said. "These guys -- she literally jumped into my arms and I don't think got out of my arms the whole time we were there."

The foursome flew home together, where they were greeted by the three boys as soon as they pulled into the driveway. A huge "Welcome Home" sign with each sibling's name on it was hung outside the house.

"Our three were very excited," Shaw said.

"They were literally out helping them get out of the car," Mrs. Shaw added.

The boys had been involved from the beginning, she said. They quickly joined in, even creating projects to help their parents raise money.

Oldest son Connor collected ink cartridges to recycle them for money. The family held a garage sale. Andrew held a bake sale and participated with his brother in a candy sale.

Adoption can be costly, Mrs. Shaw said, like it is anytime one has a child.

"We didn't have all the money in place. We're still paying for it," she said. "Sometimes you make decisions that are from the heart, but you do what you know is right."

This is one such decision, she said.

"It's the same feeling -- when you look in their eyes -- as when you deliver your own children," she said. "I think it's just an immediate bond. I think you start bonding with the referral picture."

Photos of the Shaws were also sent to Ethiopia -- of the family, the boys, the house.

"I still think they're processing that this is forever," Mrs. Shaw said of the newest family members, adding that the transition has been an experience. "They have never had stuff that was their own at the orphanage. That's been a big deal. They now have their little backpacks that they keep their stuff in."

With few possessions, the youngsters were easily engaged by some interesting items, the couple said.

"The day after we met them, we entertained them for 45 minutes with a ziplock bag, the fact that we could shake it and the crayons wouldn't fall out of the bag," Mrs. Shaw said.

"They thought Froot Loops (cereal) were candy," Shaw said. "They put them in their mouths and sucked on them for awhile."

Language is another adjustment, with the Shaw boys slipping back and forth between English and a smattering of words they have picked up from their siblings.

"All of them are learning, but Noah in particular. We were teasing about whether the boys would teach them English or wind up speaking their language," she said.

Nehemiya and Hiwot can understand English more than they speak it right now but are picking it up quickly, Mrs. Shaw said. She said she can't wait until they can communicate more of their story.

"At this age, they have memories of their life that you need to incorporate into your life," she said.

They have already learned a few things about the children's previous life. For one thing, it was Nehemiya's job to chase monkeys out of the cornfield, Shaw said. They also knew better than to stay outside after dark because of lions walking around, he added.

The couple say they plan to include the Ethiopian culture into their child-rearing, whether it be sharing the history of the country or creating opportunities for them to meet families similar to theirs.

"There's a church in Raleigh that runs an Ethiopian service ... a picnic in Raleigh to get together with all the kids and families," she said. "I'm trying to learn how to cook (their foods), and they have been great about trying American food."

The most important aspect of blending the lives of their children has been developing understanding and acceptance. That will be especially helpful when questions are raised about the multi-racial balance in the household.

"We kind of talked a lot about that before and asked the kids," Mrs. Shaw said. "We did a lot of talking and role-playing."

People have not hesitated to approach with their questions, she said. Many are not shy about asking, out of the blue, about the children and whether their parents are still alive.

"If there's a situation where a teacher may need some of the information, that's fine, but generally we just say they were orphans in the country of Ethiopia and were being put up for adoption," she said.

She remembers someone wisely pointing out to her, "Would you want to walk into a room and have everybody know every intimate detail of your life?"

Her efforts are geared to take the focus off the children being adopted and instead place it on the family unit.

"We say, 'We're an adoptive family,'" she said. "I think if you're prepared for the worst transition and people asking you the worst questions possible, then you're ready to deal with pretty much anything."

The best response to a question about having a black and white family came from oldest son, Connor, she said.

"I just say to them, 'Haven't you heard of Martin Luther King? It really doesn't matter,'" he said.

It certainly didn't matter to folks the Shaws encountered before leaving Ethiopia, Mrs. Shaw said.

At the orphanage, she said, "They loved these kids. They knew what they liked, and they told us," she said.

"Ethiopian people have come up to us even if they couldn't speak English and put their hands on us. Adoption there is looked at as, you always do what's in the best interest of the child."

Despite only being together slightly more than a month, they are already cultivating their own traditions.

Reading is a big deal, Mrs. Shaw said, and bedtime stories are a must. The children also play outdoors a lot, enjoy dressing in costumes and having their own parades around the house. Family movie nights are equally as popular, she said.

"They haven't seen a lot of the classic Disney movies. There will be more popcorn on the floor than there is carpet," she laughed.

It's a process, she explained. But "it doesn't matter how they come to us. They're still completely 100 percent ours. You have the same feelings and all the same emotions as if they were born to you."

The family has its own Web site, chronicling their story. It can be found at www.easysite.com/lifewiththeshaws.